At this moment, it’s impossible not to find a great dining deal in New York City: Besides Frank Bruni’s and Oliver Schwaner-Albright’s spectacular roundups in yesterday’s Times Dining Out section, there is New York magazine’s all-encompassing Recession Special guide from a few weeks back. If I were going to obsess about food here, I’d talk about lobster and Melissa Clark’s terrific story, from the same Dining Out section (though if you think lobster is cheap in New York, head for Maine where it’s going for $2.50 a pound off the boat—basically the same price as chicken wings). But right now, I’m thinking about booze, and how people are drinking rather than eating through these tough times. Manhattan’s barbecue mecca Blue Smoke is reporting a marked increase in alcohol sales over the past three months, especially for specialty cocktails and high-end bourbon. (At the same time, nonalcoholic drinks are down. BS’s managing partner Mark Maynard-Parisi thinks it’s because that group is choosing water rather than paying for soda or iced tea, “while those who like to imbibe are going all the way.”) Over at The Smith in the East Village, owner Jeff Lefcourt has seen a steady increase in sales of bourbon and scotch, with a particular spike since September. They’ve also gotten increased requests for after-dinner drinks—enough to be launching a dedicated scotch menu next week. Likewise at Almond, owner Eric Lemonides has noticed a dramatic increase in the sales of gin and brown spirits and gin since they opened in September (he now has to order Maker’s Mark by the case). Even Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Perry St. recognizes the importance of drinking right now. To accompany its $24 two-course prix fixe lunch (which is unofficially judged the best deal in the city by food cognoscenti), wines by the glass are $5 and bottles are $20.
But there's one person not jumping on the-economy-is-spurring-heavy-drinking bandwagon, and that's Jim Meehan of PDT (also the deputy editor of F&W's cocktail books). He sees recent increased alcohol sales as natural for this time of year. "It's not a knee jerk reaction to the state of the nation. It's early darkness, when people start drinking at 6 instead of 8. And it's the holidays. It's the time of year when people just want to have a drink."